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Royal Ballet - La Bayadere, Spring 2013


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Jann Parry was due to review last night for DanceTabs, but unfortunately was not able to and so it fell to me. As a starter for ten here are my thoughts on the opening show of the run. You can see them with pictures here:
http://dancetabs.com/2013/04/royal-ballet-la-bayadere-london/

But Dave Morgan will be along with a gallery later - it's a busy weekend with the Mikhailovsky also having photoshoots.


                                                                                                   


Royal Ballet
La Bayadere

London, Royal Opera House
5 April 2013
www.roh.org.uk

With fascinating timing the Royal Ballet (RB) opens another run of Natalia Makarova's deeply Russian La Bayadere, just after St Petersburg's Mikhailovsky Ballet have been wowing fans around at the Coliseum with wonderful dancing in other Petipa 19th century classics. The comparisons are inevitable and interesting.

First thing to say is that it's a peach of a production, coherent, dramatically satisfying and the costumes and sets (Yolanda Sonnabend and Pier Luigi Samaritini) belay its age - it was first put on by RB in 1989. It still feels fresh and vibrant if perhaps the dead tiger could do with a bit of a plump up. The story and telling suit the Royal Ballet, who aside from fielding 3 good leads, support them with glorious character-acting/dancing. Gary Avis's High Brahmin - torn between religion and fancying a temple dancer - is beautifully rendered in his conflicted sadness, and nobody does a reverential stooped walk better than Genesia Rosato as the servant, Aya - such a clever character. Christopher Saunders' Rajah has also developed much authority over the years, though I still find myself missing David Drew in many roles like this (*).

The three leads did well, especially given they were not scheduled to dance until the last minute, with an injured Alina Cojocaru taken out. Replacing her was Roberta Marquez as Nikiya (the original Bayadere temple dancer) and I like her simple and humble approach. She, and it, are a thing of beauty and you can see why the Brahmin and warriors like Federico Bonelli's Solor would want her. Marianela Nunez also starts simply and happily as Gamzatti - deeply infatuated with Solor. And the human side of her love is pitifully played out in the final act as she prepares for the wedding. But in between we see her scary, steely side, complicit in the death of Nikiya and at the end of Act 2 (Shades) her slow advance on Solor, rather like a Boa constrictor mesmerising its pray, is an icy spine-tingling thing. That said, I can think of worse things in life than to have Marianela Nunez set her cap at you. Nunez also makes the most of the classical showy aspects in her solos.

Elsewhere it was a mix of good and ragged steps - which marks the contrast with the Mikhailovsky who, by and large, deliver classical strength in depth. It's Bayadere, so everybody always wants to know how the 24 Shades did and the answer is very well if you just looked at their entrance and the filling of the stage with 24 dancers holding it together with just an occasional minor wobble in the balances - a big tick and so very hard. But when the same dancers split into two lines of 12 either side of the stage and act as one, it looked pretty unrehearsed and third rate. The three lead shades also looked very unmatched and struggled to act together or convince singly at times - as if a lot of last minute changes had been made. If this had been on around at the Coliseum the roles would have sparkled. Makarova had the good sense not ask much of the RB soloist boys - doing things in classical unison is so not their thing. Alexander Campbell's Bronze Idol was OK - he always ends with a good showy flourish, if it doesn't always crown the amazing movement you feel it should.

All up it's a glorious production that I don't see will need to change in another decade or three. I might want it all, but the house was full to brimming, the company is not Russian and so some bits struggle while their other strengths help compensate. Folks went home happy.

(*) As an aside on David Drew, it's a great shame he no longer performs, but there was no 'final' show for him (or none I was aware of) where we could all give thanks for the decades of exemplary dancing and his encouragement to all, particularly around growing young choreographers.

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I also saw Friday's performance and would largely agree with Bruce.  I haven't seen Marquez dance in a few years and, having expected Alina, was a little disappointed to see the change.  However, I was very pleasantly surprised by her interesting interpretation of Nikiya, vulnerable but not weak with subtle reactions.  Whoever was booing her from the Amphi at the end was evidently not only rude but shortsighted.

 

Nunez was as reliably good as ever  - Gamzatti gives her some showy choreography to get her teeth into and she has that amazing technique which allows her to fly through it looking as relaxed as you please.  Sadly the same couldn't be said for the shades variations which I found  disappointing - Akane Takada made a good job of the first variation but the other two felt very nervy and precarious.  As one of the highlights of the most "iconic" act of the ballet, these variations really could do with being more strongly cast - especially for the opening night of the run. 

 

The production is a reasonable one (I personally find all the Orientalist schtick ridiculous and borderline racist, but I can tolerate it better in older ballets than new works (there really is no excuse for the Arabian slaving scene in ENB's Nutcracker, or the Caterpillar's "harem" in Alice - why incidentally is this always stereotypically cast with the darkest skinned male dancers in the RB??)).  The character parts are very well done.  The entrance of the shades and, indeed, much of the corps de ballet work in the white Act I thought was much better than the last time the Royal did this ballet.  However the pas d'Action and other group dances could do with a lot of tidying up and de-wobbling.

 

But generally an enjoyable evening and a very respectable stab by an English company at a Russian classic.

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Dischuffed: "The production is a reasonable one (I personally find all the Orientalist schtick ridiculous and borderline racist, but I can tolerate it better in older ballets than new works (there really is no excuse for the Arabian slaving scene in ENB's Nutcracker, or the Caterpillar's "harem" in Alice - why incidentally is this always stereotypically cast with the darkest skinned male dancers in the RB??)). "

 

Very surprised with your remarks. I went with 2 Middle Eastern friends and none of them found it "borderline" racist nor made they any remark on "stereotypically dark skinned male dancers...". I am tired of hearing these "PC" cliches and of reactionary statements made as soon as darker skinned people are cast in a suitable role. Would you say the same about the white dancers dancing as "whores" in Manon, that it is "borderline racist and they are stereotypically cast"? Most Oriental people are darker/olive skinned and featuring them in plays, musicals and ballet doesn't mean "borderline racist". The darkest skinned male dancers in the RB are AMAZING dancers and dancing these roles is relevant to the choreography. They feel good dancing them, so what's the problem? 

 

I agree with you on the 3 Shades Solos. Only Akane danced the Variation well. I was very surprised with the casting of the 3 unmatched Shades (they'd get it right at the POB and Mariinsky Theatre why not at the RB? (everyone in the audience could see it).

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I don't think you have grasped my meaning Nina G.  By Orientalism in this context, I meant the understanding (popularized by Edward Said in his 1978 book) of how Westerners in the colonial and post-colonial era lazily simplified all "Eastern" societies into a single "other" culture, and made false assumptions to attribute to them a certain set of negative values, including cruelty, cunning and sexual licentiousness - all of which we see in La Bayadere.  This is by no means a PC cliche - it has long been common currency amongst writers who think beyond Daily Mail stereotypes.  

 

To consistently cast dark-skinned people in such roles is to suggest that the negative values associated with them (the cruel slaver in the Nutcracker, the caterpillar with his harem) are in fact inherent in non-white people. Theatre directors are extremely aware of this issue, to the extent that you will now find a colour-blind casting policy in all major companies, such as the RSC and the NT.   In this sense it is ballet (and in many cases opera) which is reactionary in this sense, not my statement.

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Thank you for taking the trouble to explain Dischuffed. I now understand the angle of your point of view and remarks, and of course it all makes sense. I think most educated people now see things in the way you elaborate on in your post above.

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Some photos from last Friday's photo call. Hats off to Yasmine Naghdi for leading the Shades around the stage doing the arabeques (twice in one day!) Absolutely beautiful and mesmerising to watch...


8636726702_32f0e39c91_z.jpg
Royal Ballet - La Bayadere: Solor & Nikiya (Nehemiah Kish & Hikaru Kobayashi)
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr


8635615495_c9f312556d_z.jpg
Royal Ballet - La Bayadere: The Shades
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr


8635611649_ae21452d0a_z.jpg
Royal Ballet - La Bayadere: Gamzatti (Yuhui Choe)
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr


See more...

Set from DanceTabs - Royal Ballet: La Bayadere
Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

By kind Permission of the Royal Opera House

 

Edited by zxDaveM
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Lovely to have these photos, I saw Kobayashi/Kish/Choe last night, with Kuneko and Takada as well it was all very exotic, thought Hikaru Kobayashi very soulful and delicate as Nikiya, glad I got the chance to see her. Yuhui Choe and Nehemiah Kish are having a busy time at the moment, looking forward to seeing them tomorrow in happier roles in Alice!

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I just wanted to applaud Yuhui Choe's Gamzatti last night. Seemingly cast against type (she was a sublime Nikiya a few years ago) her dancing and portrayal were superb in my view. I enjoyed Hikaru and Nehemiah also but, as is so often the case, Yuhui's artistry seemed to be in a different league.

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I loved tonight's performance with many highlights to pick out.  Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae are always one of my favourite couples and tonight was no exception. A particular highlight was also the performance of Yuhui Choe as Gamzatti.  Superb dancing and great stage presence. Also a very impressive High Brahmin from Eric Underwood and no performance is ever complete without Gary Avis.

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I couldn't agree more, Jenny.  Roberta and Steven make a wonderful partnership who seem to bring out the best in each other, and I thought Steven's characterisation of Solor was the most convincing I've seen in a long time. I love Roberta in everything anyway but I think Nikiya is definitely one of her best roles.  As for Yuhui, she was fantastic - a really imperious, spoiled Gamzatti (surely proof, if it were needed, that she can do more than soubrette roles), and she dances with confidence and such musicality.  I would love to see her promoted to Principal, and I'm keeping everything crossed for her!  I must also mention the girls of the Corps.  The Shades were beautifully in sync and utterly mesmerising. The section where they all rise up on pointe and just quiver always brings me out in goosebumps.  La Bayadere is such a beautiful ballet - my only quibble is that screen for the last two Acts.  I know why it's there but I still find it rather annoying.  

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Just back home from today's matinee of La Bayadere with Roberta Marquez (replacing injured Alina), Federico Bonelli and Marianela Nunez. I'm just a plain old ballet lover so can't comment from a technical point of view in terms of writing a 'review'. So all I can do is speak from just the heart when I say I felt this was an exceptionally beautiful performance. Marquez was very sensual and moving emotionally  - I liked her Nikiya a lot and I thought she was fabulous.. Marianela - well, she was amazing as always. Special praise for The Shades - how beautifully synchronized they are. Federico of course - what a great dancer and partner. You understand why the 2 women would fight over him! I just thought the production overall was what I would call 'beautiful'. Because I saw such a powerful performance of Mayerling the previous evening, it was hard for me to get on side for a fantasy ballet like La Bayadere.  But yes, La Bayadere today was good, very good. 

 

Actually it was extra good as I did a backstage ROH tour ahead of the matinee today and was so privileged to see Federico and many of the other men dancing in La Bayadere do class ahead of the matinee I went to. 

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I saw the matinee with Soares, Kobayashi and Choe yesterday. Soares managed a nice stage chemistry with Kobayashi despite the last minute switcheros for the performance and he and Choe made the dancing look easy.

 

I wasn't too keen on Choe prior to this performance, but I now very much get why people love to watch her dance. Her dancing and acting (she does haughty and somewhat evil very convincingly and then looks like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth) was perfect for the role and she got a huge applause at curtain call.

 

The orchestra was also in fine form and I could go and see La Bayadere just for the violin solo.

 

The 'wild men' and their dreadlocks were a bit distracting and some point I just watched the furry mass hanging of their heads and started to wonder about moths and other creatures instead of watching the actual dancing.

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Completely agree with Coated, but would also like to add that Clare Calvert looked stunning in the second Shade Variation yesterday. Made me very disappointed to be missing her Gamzatti performances.

 

Yuhui looked every inch the Principal on stage yesterday - commanding it just as well as Nuñez as Gamzatti - can't wait to see her get some big roles next season (Giselle, Rhapsody,...?) and I really want the Royal to revive La Fille soon so we can have Yuhui and Alex Campbell as Lise and Colas (their Voices of Spring PdD earlier this season was glorious!)

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I saw the matinee on Saturday and really enjoyed it. The ballet in general isn't my favourite, as my mum put it, too much arm waving and not enough dancing,but the performance was great. I thought that Choe was very good, especially her characterisation and so was Kobayashi but I felt her turns were too fast to be landed properly (picky I know!) The costumes were beautiful and I loved the kingdom of the shades, although there were a few wobbles that made it seem less rehersed. I don't understand why they spread out the performances so much, it doesn't seem to give them time to develop a role. Also really liked the dance with the lamps. Overall I thought it was brilliant and everyone did very well considering the last minute replacements.

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just back from Yanowsky/Golding. Is the loud talking by just about everybody in the theatre during the scene-changing music normal at the ROH? I was shocked. SHOCKED, I tell you.

 

It was pretty abysmal at the Saturday matinee, certainly (several people in the amphitheatre tried to "shush" it).  Seems to be an increasing proportion of the ballet-going crowd who think that it's fine to talk as long as the curtains are closed.  Even Minkus doesn't deserve that fate :)

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I was there last night and it annoyed me too, to say the least!

Can't the ushers shush them? So disrespectful towards the orchestra, the conductor and Minkus.

It was a lousy audience last night, and the only time they really clapped loudly was for the ladies of the Corps at the end of the Shade scene.

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I very much enjoyed Matthew Golding's performance.  He partnered extremely well and his second variation in the second act quite rightly brought the house down.  James Hay also made a distinguished debut as the Golden Idol.  

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Capybara, they were wonderful.  A great partnership, equal technically and dramatically.  I had never seen him dance before and I'm very, very impressed with him!  He is a wonderful turner, has lovely height to his jumps and lands silently.  He is also an excellent partner, and gave very good characterisation to the rather bland Solor.   Gosh, how did the RB let him slip through their hands??!!

 

James Hay made his gold paint shine brilliantly in his debut as the Golden Idol.  Very well done to him!

 

Must agree, the audience was terrible. 

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Thank you Meunier and Sim.

 

Very interesting to hear your views on Matthew. I saw him in Swan Lake with the DNB and was impressed with his dancing but not so much with his characterisation. So it is good to hear that his Solor 'lived'.

 

No surprise that James made a strong debut as the Bronze Idol. And he's having a busy week.

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I too enjoyed Zen's performance. James Hay was great. Matthew was wonderful - I agree with all you say, Sim.

 

I wonder if moves are afoot for Matthew to move from Holland? He is also guesting in ENB's Swan Lake. Who has their eye on him, or is it just coincidence?!

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